Kala and Wolfgang woke up before dawn with Sun standing over them and gently shaking them awake. The best silent alarm clock, they had found, were other members of their cluster who were already awake. It was one of the few instances where the different time zones came in handy.
Careful not to wake Rajan, they slipped out of the bed and headed down into the kitchen. It was Rajan’s birthday today, and they were up early to make some of his favorite foods for breakfast. Truthfully Rajan was the best cook out of the three of them (or four of them including Felix, who lived here now), but neither Kala nor Wolfgang would describe themselves as bad cooks, either. Kala got to work making the thalipeeth, a type of multi-grain flatbread, while Wolfgang cooked lentils and made the poha, a light dish comprised of rice and peanuts.
After waking Kala and Wolfgang, Sun waited a moment to make sure neither of them went back to sleep.
Back in her apartment in Seoul, Mun was eating lunch and reading something off his phone, with Jindo in his lap. Jindo, of course, had his full attention on the food, and if not for Mun's arm holding him back, he would have already lunged for it. But Mun didn't seem bothered by him at all. Sun smiled and walked over to them. She scratched the top of Jindo's head, then cheekily did the same to Mun before taking an orange slice off of his plate. She sat down and began sucking the fruit as Mun grinned and fixed his hair.
"It's Rajan's birthday," said Sun as she took another orange slice.
"Oh?" Mun looked excited -- Rajan was one of his favorite long distance friends. "I should call and wish him a happy birthday, then," he said, already pulling up Rajan's number on his phone.
"Not yet!" said Sun, slapping his hand. "You could wake him up."
"Time zones." Mun nodded along as he remembered, setting his phone back down on the table. "Right."
Will and Riley sat on a countertop near Wolfgang. 8am in Mumbai was 2:30am in Iceland, and they were just now driving home from Riley's most recent DJing gig. They took a cab because they were both a little too drunk to drive, and they took to heckling Wolfgang as he put a pot of lentils on the stove before turning his attention to the poha dish.
Wolfgang started soaking the grain and sautéing the peanuts.
Will asked, "Don't you need to boil the water...?" He furrowed his brow. "If you're making rice?"
Riley smiled and added, "I think he's right, Wolfgang. If you don't cook it, it will be too hard."
"It's a different type of rice," answered Wolfgang.
"Oh really?" said Riley, her amusement turning into genuine interest. "And you just soak it with water?" She turned to Will, tapping him on the shoulder. "Will, we should get some. We always burn rice."
"We should -- yeah, we should," Will said, nodding along. "What type of rice is that, Wolf?"
Before Wolfgang could think of answering, though, Will had turned his attention to the frying pan. "Dude, I think the peanuts are done," he said. The peanuts weren't done. "They're gonna burn in a minute." Wolfgang had only just put them in the pan a minute or two ago. They had barely started cooking.
"Peanuts, peanuts, peanuts..." Riley echoed in a sing-songy voice, slinging her arm around Will's neck.
Neither of them were being particularly funny, according to Wolfgang and his sobriety, but they seemed to find themselves hilarious and they were giggly quietly between themselves as if they had made a great joke.
Wolfgang dealt with them patiently, doing his best to block them out as he continued his work.
Kala looked up from the dough she was making and eyed Will and Riley. "Right, you two, leave him alone," she sternly, although there was a twinkle of amusement in her eyes. "He'll mess something up if you distract him." Almost immediately after she'd said this, she paused, her expression changing to concern as she sniffed the air. "Do you smell something burning?"
"Shit," said Wolfgang, who had suddenly remembered the lentils. He grabbed the pot handle and took it off the stove. He peered in to find all the water had boiled away and the lentils on the bottom had burnt onto the pot. "Shit. Dammit."
Riley winced and jumped off the counter, walking over to look into the pot. "Maybe the ones on the top are still okay...?" she suggested.
Kala sighed, putting a hand to her temple. "No," she said, shaking her head. "It's fine. I will make more lentils." She shook away the slight frustration that was growing -- it wouldn't do to be grumpy right now. It wasn't like Rajan would be upset if they were a little late -- knowing him, she doubted he would be upset even if they hadn't planned much at all for his birthday. (They had planned much for his birthday, though -- it wasn't in Kala or Wolfgang's nature to let someone so important to them go uncelebrated.) And Wolfgang was doing his best, and it wasn't like Will and Riley had bad intentions, either. "Would you two please go away for right now," she said to the latter two. "Please."
"Yes. Okay. Sorry," said Riley, turning back towards Will.
"I'll just Google it; I'll Google what type of rice it is," said Will.
"We'll stay up long enough to wish Rajan a happy birthday, okay?" said Riley, offering it as a form of apology. Kala smiled her thanks. And with that, Riley and Will both left the kitchen.
Rajan woke up as the first rays of light hit his bed. He could smell peanuts and thalipeeth wafting into the room from downstairs, and he sat up feeling hungry. He was alone in the bed -- beside him were two empty dents in the mattress where Kala and Wolfgang usually slept.
Water was running in the bathroom. Rajan got up and put on a pair of shorts, but before he could check the bathroom to see who it was, the door to the bedroom opened and Kala walked in. She smiled wide, her teeth flashing when she saw him.
“Happy birthday, Rajan!” she said.
Everyone in the cluster took turns saying happy birthday to Rajan, with Kala telling him what everyone said.
“Thank you, everyone,” said Rajan, smiling. A year ago, when this was all still quite new to him, it would have been overwhelming and bizarre to hear Kala wish him a happy birthday seven times in a row, six of which came from invisible people standing somewhere in the room. But now, he seemed totally at ease with it.
“Happy birthday, Rajan,” Wolfgang said from the bathroom, his words muffled through a mouthful of toothpaste.
“We made you breakfast,” said Kala.
“Kala made you breakfast,” Wolfgang corrected. “I burnt lentils.”
“It smells delicious,” said Rajan excitedly, even though now that Wolfgang mentioned it, he could smell the scent of something burnt coming from the kitchen as well.
"Come on, then," said Kala, motioning for him to follow. "Let's go eat."
Amanita groaned, half waking up after Nomi offered her birthday wishes to Rajan. “Babe, what time is it?” muttered Amanita.
“I don’t know,” said Nomi. Her eyes flicked to the clock. 4:24am. “Early. Don’t get up.”
“Who were you talking to?”
“Rajan. It’s his birthday.”
“Really?” Amanita still sounded sleepy, but she perked up a bit at that. “Talk about coincidence. It’s my half-birthday.”
“I know,” said Nomi, squirming a bit closer to Amanita and kissing her on the cheek. She sighed, letting her head fall back onto the pillow. She smiled a little -- of course she knew it was her wife’s half-birthday. She had only mentioned it six times this week. “Happy half-birthday, Neets,” she whispered, but Amanita had already fallen back asleep.
“What did you say?” asked Zakia, pulling her beautiful yellow and blue dress over her head and tying it at the waist.
"I was saying happy birthday to Rajan." Capheus rolled out of bed and walked to the closet to find his own clothes. Once over there, he couldn't resist pulling Zakia closer to him and nuzzling his nose into her neck. She always smelled so good -- like lavender and rosemary. She reached up a hand and ran it affectionately down his head.
“We’re taking a break from work today,” she said.
"We are?" Capheus said, a bit surprised. Zakia almost never wanted time off work.
"Yes," she said. "You've been working every day for the past three weeks." It was true. Capheus had never been a stranger to hard work, but ever since he had won his campaign, he had been working much harder, and for many more hours, than before. "One day off won't hurt anyone," said Zakia, turning around to face him.
Capheus still looked a bit hesitant, so Zakia cupped his face and added, "For Rajan's birthday."
He grinned. "Okay," he agreed. "For Rajan's birthday."
It was nearly 9pm in Mumbai when Lito, Hernando and Dani pulled up to the Rasals' house. Rajan never wanted any huge celebration for his birthday, but he always enjoyed the company of close friends. So Lito had decided to take a few days off from filming to come visit. And of course this wasn't an issue for Hernando, who had the summer off from teaching, or for Daniela, who was officially Lito's agent now.
They were all a little sleepy from the long flight and from jetlag, but after picking up their rental car, they made a pit-stop for coffee, and that seemed to be doing the trick. Dani knocked on the door and Rajan answered. The look on his face was both surprised and delighted. "Lito, Hernando, Daniela! What are you doing in Mumbai?" he said, seeming a little flustered.
Dani squealed happily and threw her arms around him. "We're here to see you! Happy birthday!" she said. Hernando got the next hug, and lastly, Lito.
"Surprise!" said Lito as he hugged Rajan. With his head on Rajan's shoulder, he caught Kala's eye and mouthed, "It is a surprise, yes?", to which Kala nodded and smiled.
"Please, come in; it's good to see you all," said Rajan, stepping aside to let them into the house. "You didn't have to come all the way here."
In truth, it wasn't just celebrating Rajan that brought them here. None of them had ever been to India -- not in person, anyway -- and now was as good a time as any to correct that. But of course, Rajan was the main reason. "Of course we did," said Hernando. "We wanted to see you."
The three of them circled around the room to hug Wolfgang, Kala and Felix as well, and after the greetings were done, Felix nodded to them and asked, "Drinks?"
"Oh, yes please," said Dani.
The seven of them sat on couches and laughed together, drank together. It wasn't long until the rest of the cluster showed up to join in the celebration, and Kala, Wolfgang and Lito took turns repeating what they had said for the non-sensates of the group. Everyone was sure to wish Amanita a happy half-birthday as well, which Nomi relayed back to her. Nomi was taking her to fancy restaurant tonight to celebrate, and both of them were getting ready for it now.
Only a few hours later, and the new arrivals were practically passed out on the couch. Hernando's head was on Lito's shoulder and Dani's legs were stretched out across their laps. Felix volunteered to wake them up and escort them to the guest bedroom -- he had decided he would sleep on the couch to give their guests the good room.
While he was doing this, Wolfgang, Rajan and Kala cleaned up the glasses and made their way to their own bedroom. Rajan stopped them at the doorway and turned to them, taking one of Kala's hands in his, and one of Wolfgang's hands in his other hand. "This was a perfect birthday. Thank you," he said, kissing them both.
"It's not over yet," said Wolfgang suggestively, his eyes flicked towards the bed. Rajan's face flushed slightly. Impatient, Kala got up on her tiptoes and kissed Rajan's ear, her teeth grazing slightly as she pushed him into the room and Wolfgang closed the door. No, Rajan's birthday certainly wasn't over, and it wouldn't be over for quite a while yet.